The "Freak Letters"
The Allies Allied Against Jews
It sounds harsh, my title. The fact of the matter was, as usual, politics came first. In March 1938, when Austria fell to the Nazis, FDR was president of the United States. Anti-Semitism was rampant not only in the Third Reich, but worldwide. It was bad politics to take a side, and strict immigration quotas were one way to prevent “stirring the pot of dissent”. FDR had a reputation of being both a “Jew-lover” and a “Jew-hater”, depending on which side of the spectrum the accuser stood.
In writing The American Wife, the first book in The Diplomat’s Wife series, I stumbled on an article on Jstor about the management styles of two Charges d’Affaires in Vienna: John Cooper Wiley and Leland Morris.
Vienna’s response to the Anschluss and the Nazi takeover was an immediate and brutal pogrom against the Jews. Nazis struck at lightning speed, having long ago taken the cues from their northern neighbor. By that time, Germany had already put into place the Nürenberger Laws, limiting Jewish rights, preventing “mixed” marriages, and stripping Jews of basic human dignities. Many of the Jews in Austria had fled Germany in the 1930s because of the debilitating pogrom against them.
The day after the Anschluss, chaos reigned at every consulate and embassy in Vienna. Jews lined up for hours upon hours, often never reaching their goal of actually speaking to someone about their personal plight. Meanwhile, Nazi stormtroopers descended on those waiting on the streets and beat, harrassed, and humiliated them.
American John Cooper Wiley was a rather progressive leader. He pleaded with his staff to bring in all of their friends to help process the Jewish refugees pouring in with visa requests. And when the Department of State refused to pay salaries, he paid out of pocket. The embassy in Berlin also “transferred” their quota numbers to Vienna to help get more people out.
By the time the Nazis set up their own emigration office in Austria, they had put into place a very debilitating and official process for the Jews. Restrictions and policies (such as requiring name changes and which meant reapplying with a new passport at the consulate of choice) interfered with the consulates’ own schedules and policies. In other words, between the foreign bureaucracy and that of the sadistic and demeaning measures placed on the Jews by the Nazis, many Jews found themselves stateless and displaced.
In the midst of all this, Cooper Wiley was reassigned to another station and Leland Morris, one of his Foreign Service Officers, took charge. A numbers-man and administrator to the core, Morris immediately reorganized the entire application process in an attempt to simplify the chaotic paperwork. In the process, he removed the human-side of the process by making all applicants send in their documents by mail. He removed the “face” of the problem entirely, and fired all of the “extra” staff.
Under Cooper Wiley, many documents were lost. Affidavits – which took forever to receive from sponsors in America – were mislaid or lost completely, and Jewish applicants forced to file for a new one.
Under Morris, the system was a bit better, but the hurdles placed by the regime were becoming rapidly greater. In a meeting amongst Allied nations in which the question was: “Can we not raise the immigration quotas? I will if you will…” nothing happened. Not one country chose to do so, and not one country took up the lead. When the Nazi regime put a severe limit on how long a family could stay in Austria, the Jews had their property immediately confiscated, and were ordered to leave the country within two week, or they would be arrested. This meant they were forced to travel to a neutral country where they remained in limbo as American bureaucracy dragged its feet in getting visas and permits completed.
People got creative. They wrote letters. They drew illustrations. Wrote poems. Transcribed their stories in hopes that someone with a heart was reading and listening and would show mercy.
Instead, Secretary Cordell Hull and a number from the Department of State, including the consulate leaders passed these missives around as a joke and called them the “freak letters”.
I kid you not. I can’t even make stuff like that up.
In The American Wife, my protagonist, Kitty Larsson works for both Cooper and Morris. After reading the article, I knew that this was the historical nugget I was going to reveal and use as Kitty’s foundation for her journey into joining the resistance and eventually America’s first intelligence agency, the Office of Strategic Services, or OSS.
Her stopover in working with the British SOE in France first was inspired by Virginia Hall’s story among many other brave women who risked their lives to feed intelligence to the Allies in WW2. But that is another story.
Extract from a scene from THE AMERICAN WIFE
Kitty‘s muscles tensed at the sight of the papers on Morris’s desk. She recognized Judith’s handwritten note attached to the new affidavit.
Morris held the illustration up in the air for the others to see. The page contained nine women in a circle, in various dresses and in forms of repose.
Two of them were dressed in ballgowns, the woman at seven o’clock wore harem-styled trousers and a top that exposed her belly through a sheer fabric. Her hair was tied up high over her head like a genie, and she wore large sunglasses. Another was in a pleated skirt, much like the one Judith had worn to Kitty’s wedding, but the top was a chunky sweater, and she was holding a champagne glass. Yet another was dressed in a military-style skirt and jacket with a sharp cap on her head. In the middle, Judith’s handwritten request that her documents be expedited as she would like to book passage to America, and continue working again in New York.
Morris held the page of illustrations as if a mouse by its tail. “We all had to admit that this is very good. Really good. I’m forwarding these freak letters on to the Department of State.”
Kitty gaped at him and understood. He was going to forward the packet to Messersmith so that they could share a good laugh.
Her blood boiled. “This is not a joke,“ Kitty cried. “Frau Goldberg is deadly serious. The reason she drew this is because she wants you to see her as a real person. The Nazis have banned all clothing and fashion created or sold by Jews. All of it. She doesn’t have a job. She doesn’t have her studio. She has no rights. All she has is us.”
“Yes, well, we’ll get one of the vice consuls to look into it. In the meantime, we have several other drawings and clever missives that are begging for attention. But, Mrs. Ragatz, we have called you in here for a different reason.”
Kitty looked from him to the others, but could not read their poker faces, except for Carson’s. He looked embarrassed. Uncertain, she returned her attention to Morris.
He opened his hands. “I read your report, as did the others here in this room.”
“That was meant for your eyes, Mr. Morris. Yours and the Department of State, should you have chosen to share it with them.”
“But you brought up very important points, I must admit. My colleagues and I are here to assure you that we understand the extreme pressure the Nazis are using to force out the Jewish population, but we all came together to apologize to you, for falling so short of your expectations.”
“I didn’t mean to offend—”
“By all means. It was right of you to point out our shortcomings.”
Morris’s tone was anything but complacent. It was filled with danger.
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The Diplomat's Wife Series
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“If I go back to Paris, it would be my third time there as an undercover agent...” Kitty murmured. “I ask myself, how many chances does one person get?”
Out July 20th, 2023
Diplomats in Turmoil: Creating a Middle Ground in Post-Anschluss Austria
MELISSA JANE TAYLOR
By Unknown(Life time: Unknown) – Original publication: Unknown
Immediate source: http://www.pratercottage.at/20…, PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56528729
John Cooper Wiley
By Unknown author photographer. Photo distributed by ACME Newspictures. – Ambassador John C. Wiley
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45570282
Secretary Cordell Hull
By Harris &Ewing, photographer – Library of Congress
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=112442054